Virtual reality on campus with Drupal

One of the most stressful experiences for students is the process of choosing the right university. Researching various colleges and universities can be overwhelming, especially when students don't have the luxury of visiting different campuses in person.

At Acquia Labs, we wanted to remove some of the complexity and stress from this process, by making campus tours more accessible through virtual reality. During my presentation at Acquia Engage Europe yesterday, I shared how organizations can use virtual reality to build cross-channel experiences. People that attended Acquia Engage Europe asked if they could have a copy of my video, so I decided to share it on my blog.

The demo video below features a high school student, Jordan, who is interested in learning more about Massachusetts State University (a fictional university). From the comfort of his couch, Jordan is able to take a virtual tour directly from the university's website. After placing his phone in a VR headset, Jordan can move around the university campus, explore buildings, and view program resources, videos, and pictures within the context of his tour.

All of the content and media featured in the VR tour is stored in the Massachusetts State University's Drupal site. Site administrators can upload media and position hotspots directly from within Drupal backend. The React frontend pulls in information from Drupal using JSON API. In the video below, Chris Hamper (Acquia) further explains how the decoupled React VR application takes advantage of new functionality available in Drupal 8.

It's exciting to see how Drupal's power and flexibility can be used beyond traditional web pages. If you are interesting in working with Acquia on virtual reality applications, don't hesitate to contact the Acquia Labs team.

Special thanks to Chris Hamper for building the virtual reality application, and thank you to Ash Heath, Preston So and Drew Robertson for producing the demo videos.

How Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub impacts the cloud wars

Microsoft acquires GitHub

Today, Microsoft announced it is buying GitHub in a deal that will be worth $7.5 billion. GitHub hosts 80 million source code repositories, and is used by almost 30 million software developers around the world. It is one of the most important tools used by software organizations today.

As the leading cloud infrastructure platforms — Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc — mature, they will likely become functionally equivalent for the vast majority of use cases. In the future, it won't really matter whether you use Amazon, Google or Microsoft to deploy most applications. When that happens, platform differentiators will shift from functional capabilities, such as multi-region databases or serverless application support, to an increased emphasis on ease of use, the out-of-the-box experience, price, and performance.

Given multiple functionally equivalent cloud platforms at roughly the same price, the simplest one will win. Therefore, ease of use and out-of-the-box experience will become significant differentiators.

This is where Microsoft's GitHub acquisition comes in. Microsoft will most likely integrate its cloud services with GitHub; each code repository will get a button to easily test, deploy, and run the project in Microsoft's cloud. A deep and seamless integration between Microsoft Azure and GitHub could result in Microsoft's cloud being perceived as simpler to use. And when there are no other critical differentiators, ease of use drives adoption.

If you ask me, Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, made a genius move by buying GitHub. It could take another ten years for the cloud wars to mature, and for us to realize just how valuable this acquisition was. In a decade, $7.5 billion could look like peanuts.

While I trust that Microsoft will be a good steward of GitHub, I personally would have preferred to see GitHub remain independent. I suspect that Amazon and Google will now accelerate the development of their own versions of GitHub. A single, independent GitHub would have maximized collaboration among software projects and developers, especially those that are Open Source. Having a variety of competing GitHubs will most likely introduce some friction.

Over the years, I had a few interactions with GitHub's co-founder, Chris Wanstrath. He must be happy with this acquisition as well; it provides stability and direction for GitHub, ends a 9-month CEO search, and is a great outcome for employees and investors. Chris, I want to say congratulations on building the world's biggest software collaboration platform, and thank you for giving millions of Open Source developers free tools along the way.

Unlike marketing efforts, CAPEX doesn't lie

The title of this blog post comes from a recent Platformonomics article that analyzes how much Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle are investing in their cloud infrastructure. It does that analysis based on these companies' publicly reported CAPEX numbers.

Capital expenditures, or CAPEX, is money used to purchase, upgrade, improve, or extend the life of long-term assets. Capital expenditures generally takes two forms: maintenance expenditure (money spent for normal upkeep and maintenance) and expansion expenditures (money used to buy assets to grow the business, or money used to buy assets to actually sell). This could include buying a building, upgrading computers, acquiring a business, or in the case of cloud infrastructure vendors, buying the hardware needed to invest in the growth of their cloud infrastructure.

Building this analysis on CAPEX spending is far from perfect, as it includes investments that are not directly related to scaling cloud infrastructure. For example, Google is building subsea cables to improve their internet speed, and Amazon is investing a lot in its package and shipping operations, including the build-out of its own cargo airline. These investments don't advance their cloud services businesses. Despite these inaccuracies, CAPEX is still a useful indicator for measuring the growth of their cloud infrastructure businesses, simply because these investments dwarf others.

The Platformonomics analysis prompted me to do a bit of research on my own.

The evolution of Amazon, Alphabet, Google, IBM and Oracle's CAPEX between 2008 and 2018

The graph above shows the trailing twelve months (TTM) CAPEX spending for each of the five cloud vendors. CAPEX don't lie: cloud infrastructure services is clearly a three-player race. There are only three cloud infrastructure companies that are really growing: Amazon, Google (Alphabet) and Microsoft. Oracle and IBM are far behind and their spending is not enough to keep pace with Amazon, Microsoft or Google.

Amazon's growth in CAPEX is the most impressive. This becomes really clear when you look at the percentage growth:

The percentage growth of Amazon, Alphabet, Google, IBM and Oracle's CAPEX between 2008 and 2018

Amazon's CAPEX has exploded over the past 10 years. In relative terms, it has grown more than all other companies' CAPEX combined.

The scale is hard to grasp

To put the significance of these investments in cloud services in perspective, in the last 12 months, Amazon and Alphabet's CAPEX is almost 10x the size of Coca-Cola's, a company whose products are available in every grocery store, gas station, and vending machine in every town and country in the world. More than 3% of all beverages consumed around the world are Coca-Cola products. In contrast, the amount of money cloud infrastructure vendors are investing in CAPEX is hard to grasp.

The CAPEX of Amazon, Alphabet, Google vs Coca-Cola between 2008 and 2018
Disclaimers: As a public market investor, I'm long Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Also, Amazon is an investor in my company, Acquia.

Making the web easier and safer with the Web Authentication standard

Firefox 60 was released a few weeks ago and now comes with support for the upcoming Web Authentication (WebAuthn) standard.

Other major web browsers weren't far behind. Yesterday, the release of Google Chrome 67 also included support for the Web Authentication standard.

I'm excited about it because it can make the web both easier and safer to use.

The Web Authentication standard will make the web easier, because it is a big step towards eliminating passwords on the web. Instead of having to manage passwords, we'll be able to use web-based fingerprints, facial authentication, voice recognition, a smartphone, or hardware security keys like the YubiKey.

It will also make the web safer, because it will help reduce or even prevent phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks, and credential theft. If you are interested in learning more about the security benefits of the Web Authentication standard, I recommend reading Adam Langley's excellent analysis.

When I have a bit more time for side projects, I'd like to buy a YubiKey 4C to see how it fits in my daily workflow, in addition to what it would look like to add Web Authentication support to Drupal and https://dri.es.